La Paz (Bolivia), Feb 22: Bolivia's government has asked for patience following a referendum on President Evo Morales' bid to seek a fourth term, calling the results a tie and saying it was too early to call.
"We are really talking about a dead heat at the moment. So it would be better to hold your enthusiasm and calmly wait for results," Vice President Alvaro Garcia told reporters. "All your celebration may well turn into weeping." He did not immediately say what percentage of the vote was counted.
But he said media projections signaling a no vote had prevailed could well be wrong. Earlier, local media projected that Bolivians had denied Morales' bid to seek a fourth term and potentially extend his presidency until 2025.
Voters had their say on a constitutional amendment that would have allowed the president and his vice president seek five year terms when their current ones end in 2020. Both have been in power since 2006.
Already the country's longest serving leader, Morales lost the referendum vote 52.3 per cent to 47.7 per cent, according to unofficial figures cited on private ATB television. Unitel television gave the "no" vote as 51 per cent to 49 per cent.
If confirmed officially, it would be the worst - and first - national political defeat for Morales, who has led the Andean nation for a decade. It would also be a political earthquake; Morales had said he expected to see 70 per cent in support of his bid. Voting yesterday was mandatory, and some 6.5 million Bolivians were eligible to cast ballots.
Last month, Morales became the longest serving president since Bolivia's independence from Spain in 1825 - a rare accomplishment in a country known for military coups and shaky, short-lived governments. Now 56, Morales is also Bolivia's first democratically elected president of indigenous heritage.
Morales has overseen robust economic growth in Bolivia, but opponents accuse him of presiding over corruption and investing in flashy infrastructure projects at the expense of health and education.
Since taking office the first time in 2006, Morales has been re-elected twice, most recently in 2014 to a five-year term that ends in 2020. Under the current constitution adopted in 2009, sitting presidents can only seek re-election once.
But Bolivia's Supreme Court ruled that Morales's first term was exempt from the rule, allowing him to run again in 2014. Last month, he became the longest serving president.